Touching Across Time: A Coming Out Letter to My Indian Grandmother
This photo project queers an intergenerational conversation between myself and my Indian grandmother. In each photograph I wear clothes and jewelry traditionally worn by Indian women (sari and dhoti sari) to channel my grandmother in each frame. However, the conversation is queered because it is only happening with myself; it is a self-reflexive ancestral grounding that meditates on the ability to touch across time. Though this photo project is a deeply personal piece. It simultaneously questions whether the photograph is the only space for this kind of queer connection to exist — something framed and frozen — but never really real.
Purple sari clad caught by the moonlight, it illuminates the meaning of our last name. I know I am not that beautiful brown-skinned boy you always wanted, but I am your grandchild of mixed-race decent adorned in the bangles and bindis you used to wear. They twinkle and sparkle like the stars above transporting me to another time and place. Never before in my life had I felt more connected to you and to your past, so with my queer cosmic energies flowing I finally release my worries and touch across time.
Growing up and to this day, you were always that one person in my life I most feared and loved. Afraid of being my full self in front of you, I always wanted to be unseen. Years ago you let me wear your saris and shawls, chappals and churidars don't you remember? But then one day all that went away. I had to grow up and become a man like my father and grandfather you would say.
While these pictures may look like your greatest fear come true, know that they are an homage to you. You came to this country to make a living. You worked long hours as a DJ and a phone operator to make ends meet. Raising a family through ritual and ceremony, you held your power, magic, and spellbinding practices over all of us, over me.
That's why I am still transfixed by your body. The way you move it around and unapologetically take up space is something I have always aspired to get better at doing myself. That way you radiate your energy into the universe and push other planets out of orbit, makes me love you even more. I know that the years between us are connected by a common thread of intergenerational pain, but know that I have always admired you and your ability to hold in constant contradiction both your shiv and your shakti.
I touch across time in hopes of bringing you with me into my queer cosmic future. I want us to dance there together forever — chai, chaat, and chat. I come alive in these photos for the first time and invite you inside.
Your loving granddaughter,
Alek (she/her) is a mixed-race gender-non-conforming trans femme who works at GRIOT Circle, Inc., an LGBTSTGNCQ agency for older adults of color. She currently lives in Brooklyn, New York. Follow Alek on IG at @aleksandrchandra.
Landyn Pan (he/they) is a non-binary trans photographer in Brooklyn, New York. He aims to create conversations around queer and trans identity, Asian-American identity, and politics through his work. Follow Landyn on IG at @thelanpan.